Cabinets with BRAINS!

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Project by JoshLawson posted 03-12-2010 08:34 PM 3687 views 6 times favorited 27 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Ok, so I will confess that this is probably the third project I did as a woodworker and recovering nerd. As an engineer, much to the dismay of my wife, I always look for things that need solving, even if it isn’t a problem. This is one of those cases.
So how often have you been fumbling in the dark trying to pull a DVD out of your cabinet wishing that you could have independently lit (any color of the rainbow) shelves that would automatically sense when you put your hand in the shelf? I can easily count… one time… that that happened to me. So I decided to build a pair of these cabinets for my living room.

Woodworking stuff:
These are really simply constructed plywood frames with solid wood face frames, crown molding, and base trim that nicely accents my fireplace mantle. Since I was planning on having DVD’s in one cabinet and all my A/V equipment in the other, I added cord paths in the back of the cabinet and put the whole back panel on a piano hinge so I could easily hook everything up once I had it in the cabinet. There’s nothing too complex about the wood working part of it.
You may notice that I made the top entirely of solid wood with a mitered frame… a big no no. I didn’t know that at the time and amazingly with all the biscuits I put in it, it’s still staying together.
Now for the nerdy stuff (feel free to zone out now):
You wouldn’t know it, but each of the two cabinets I made have roughly 60 feet of wire in them. Each shelf has six RGB LED’s that are controlled via an Arduino microcontroller (see picture 3-5). Each shelf rests on adjustable shelf brackets (see picture 6) that are wired to power and three pulse width modulated (PWM) grounds. Each of the three PWM grounds controls how much current flows through a particular color of the LED, so I can control the color that the LED is putting out. With the way I have it programmed; it can be set to 1.68 million unique colors. Each shelf is independently controlled (segmented shelf brackets) so I can turn them on individually. The LED’s are hidden from view by the face frame as is all the wiring, which runs in a groove cut in the edges of the shelf to their respective contacts (the little screws visible in picture 5).

Now for the automatic lighting, each shelf has a infrared LED emitter and an infrared collector pointed at each other right behind the main cabinet face frame. Whenever anything obstructs the path between the two, I programmed the microcontroller to turn on it’s respective shelf. I also included a mode switch so I can run multiple programs. The shelves can either operate on the sensors or cycle in between various colors. I was going to implement a decibel meter (think vintage 80’s boom boxes with lights that turn on based on how loud the sound is) but I haven’t found an electronic solution to feed a good signal into the microcontrollers. Also, I got lazy.

Here is a video of the cabinets in action:

So, I feel like I have just touched the tip of the iceberg on what all was involved in these over-engineered cabinets – so feel free to ask if you have any questions.

-- Josh Lawson - Ankeny, Iowa

27 comments so far

View Jason Tetterton's profile

Jason Tetterton

54 posts in 4098 days

#1 posted 03-12-2010 08:53 PM

This is completely unnecessary and over thought….

With that being said… I love it! Very cool idea, I wish I knew enough about electronics to implement it like this… I like your idea of using the decibel meter to control the lighting, would make for a cool effect while watching action scenes, etc.

-- Jason, Central Virginia

View groovy_man_6's profile


148 posts in 4076 days

#2 posted 03-12-2010 09:02 PM

NERD IS RIGHT BROTHER! awesome.. I love it.

View unisaw2's profile


210 posts in 4111 days

#3 posted 03-12-2010 09:03 PM

Fun Project. But now you have to add runway lights to GET to the cabinet in the dark :)

-- JJ - Northern Illinois

View Chris Wright's profile

Chris Wright

541 posts in 4557 days

#4 posted 03-12-2010 09:16 PM

That’s pretty cool. So, when are you going to start selling lighting kits for those of us who don’t know a thing about wiring?

-- "At its best, life is completely unpredictable." - Christopher Walken

View Tim29's profile


307 posts in 4226 days

#5 posted 03-12-2010 09:59 PM

Those are awesome. thanks for the video

-- Tim, Nevada MO

View Jon Spelbring's profile

Jon Spelbring

199 posts in 5329 days

#6 posted 03-12-2010 10:09 PM

That’s fantastic! Wonderfully overthought, and delightfully overbuilt!

“220… 221, whatever it takes”

-- To do is to be

View Cozmo35's profile


2200 posts in 4112 days

#7 posted 03-12-2010 10:09 PM

If you were a Native American, you’d be named ”Chief Kickin Booty” becaue that it a ”KICK BUTT INVENTION!” Do you have a schematic you can share?!? I SO want to build one!! This is going in my favorites!

-- If you don't work, you don't eat!.....Garland, TX

View Chase's profile


448 posts in 4102 days

#8 posted 03-12-2010 10:21 PM

Sweeeeeeeet project. I love working with arduino, but I haven’t incorporated it into any woodworking shenanigans yet. Perhaps I should start.

-- Every neighborhood has an eccentric neighbor. I wondered for years "who was ours?" Then I realized it was me.

View jm82435's profile


1286 posts in 4818 days

#9 posted 03-12-2010 11:23 PM

That is sick. That poor arduino – what will he tell his friends? I think that is the first breadboard I have seen on LJ (well that kind anyway). This is what I love about LJs – you never know what someone will build next. Thanks for feeding my addiction.

-- A thing of beauty is a joy forever...

View bigike's profile


4057 posts in 4364 days

#10 posted 03-12-2010 11:37 PM

very good work! plans would be great on how to hook something like this up, blog! blog! blog!

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View patron's profile


13718 posts in 4417 days

#11 posted 03-12-2010 11:48 PM

that sure is the long way around on ’ lazy ’ !

well done .

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View Rob Drown's profile

Rob Drown

837 posts in 4909 days

#12 posted 03-12-2010 11:59 PM

very cool,

you have started a movement

so about the schematic . . . .

-- The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. Confucius, 经过艰苦的努力的梦想可以成真

View ryno101's profile


388 posts in 4740 days

#13 posted 03-13-2010 01:46 AM

I’m there… you got me on this one… nothing better than a super geeky, overly engineered solution to a “problem” to get me interested! Brilliant! Thanks for sharing!

-- Ryno

View OutPutter's profile


1199 posts in 5066 days

#14 posted 03-13-2010 08:30 AM

You either need to pay me back the last ten minutes of my life I wasted wading through this post OR you can make a video of this thing cycling through the other 1.679994 million colors you say it can display because I think you’re way exagerating what it can do.


-- Jim

View ackychris's profile


103 posts in 4088 days

#15 posted 03-13-2010 09:49 AM

Oh man, this is hilarious and awesome! And I feel very strongly that you should add that decibel meter—the only thing better than an over-engineered dvd cabinet is an over-engineered dvd cabinet that can groove to da beat.

-- I hate finishing. I never manage to quit while I'm ahead. --Chris

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